Vacation travel can prolong outbreaks of the respiratory illness influenza, RSV | Tech US News

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Concerns about high cases of two common respiratory viruses have doctors encouraging vaccinations and precautionary measures leading up to the holiday season. Doctors blame high case rates on ‘immunity debt’.

RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, is particularly affecting children. It is highly contagious by close contact and there is no vaccine. Symptoms of RSV can include runny nose, fever, cough, and sneezing.

Although it is usually mild like the common cold, the virus can be especially dangerous if contracted by babies or newborns.

Also complicating matters is the immunity debt: due to lockdowns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, most very young children who are now about 2 years old have not been exposed to RSV as they traditionally would have been, and therefore have not been able to create an immunity against it.

Seven percent of the slightly more than 2,000 RSV tests conducted in Georgia were positive during the most recent reporting period. That’s down from weeks past, but health experts, such as allergist Mitch Rodriguez of Atrium Health Navicent in Macon, warn that an increase may accompany holiday travel.

That doesn’t mean parents should panic.

“We don’t want families to avoid going to the emergency room,” Rodriguez said. “We just want them to use it appropriately.”

Rodriguez said parents should not seek emergency care unless children have trouble breathing, become dehydrated or experience a worsening cough.

Doctors said an increase in emergency room visits experienced by hospitals across the country is months ahead of schedule. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cases of RSV usually begin in the fall, but peak in the winter.

RELATED: High rates of respiratory illness in Georgia are filling emergency rooms with sick children
“Essentially, what we’ve seen is that over the last couple of years, potentially as a result of the COVID pandemic and the restrictions that we’ve put in place, the typical annual disease ratio has changed,” Rodriguez said.

For example, flu cases also increased earlier than expected. There have been nearly 1,000 flu-related hospitalizations in Georgia since Oct. 8, most of which have been in people 65 and older.

Compared to hospitalizations for flu-like illnesses at the same time in 2019 and 2020, respectively, hospitalizations this year have doubled, according to the state Department of Public Health’s weekly flu report.

RELATED: Georgia Thanksgiving trips expected to be busiest since before pandemic
Cases of both respiratory viruses in the United States are highest in the South, according to CDC surveillance data, followed by the Northeast. For those traveling, Rodriguez said getting a flu shot is key. The vaccines are safe for children six months and older, but a minimum of two weeks is required for the shot to provide full protection.

“No. 2,” Rodriguez said, “if you’re sick, if you have a fever, stay away from family members, especially if you have elderly or very young patients.”

The same rules of protection against COVID-19 also apply to other respiratory diseases: wash your hands, avoid touching your face and, if in doubt, wear a mask.

This story comes to Reporter Newspapers / Atlanta Intown through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a nonprofit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.

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